Let’s Goooo Mountaineers!! It’s a great joy to offer this reflection to the young church in West Virginia. I am a native of West Virginia and a true Mountaineer. When I lived there, I never really gave much thought as to why I was a Mountaineer. I just was. I was just following a tradition that I was born into. I can remember sitting on my dad’s lap listening to Jack Fleming on the radio announcing the WVU football and basketball games and seeing his excitement became mine. Even when we lost, we just shook it off and were still proud to be Mountaineers as we chanted: “Let’s Goooo Mountaineers!”
It was only after I moved away to further my music career that I was asked the question from someone who wasn’t from West Virginia: “What is a Mountaineer?” No one from West Virginia ever asked me that before and to be honest, I never really gave it much thought; but if I were going to express to another why I’m so passionate about what I believe, I better start putting my thoughts and feelings into understandable words and do my homework. So I began to explore “what does it mean to be a Mountaineer?” so I could choose for myself. The first step was to figure out what exactly are the characteristics of a Mountaineer. I discovered that the characteristics of a Mountaineer are very similar to the characteristics of a Disciple of Jesus Christ. So it hit me, metaphorically speaking, that we are called to be “Mountaineers for Christ.” You see, a Mountaineer knows the truth that is hidden in creation, because they have experienced the beauty and awesome gift of peace that can only be found when you arrive at the mountain’s summit. The Mountaineer knows that it’s not easy to get there, and they must be prepared and skilled to handle adversity and the unknown. They have to be courageous to go where there is no path. They also know that they can’t do it alone. A true Mountaineer can find their way by using the resources around them and therefore only needs to bring the bare necessities for the journey. A Mountaineer finds joy in revealing the truth they have found to others and offers everyone they meet the opportunity to follow them so that they, too, can find the peace that is only found at the top of the mountain.
Once I knew the qualities of a Mountaineer, it became evident why I am a Mountaineer. Where I find a profound peace is at the top of the hill where my mother lives, looking over the valley with awe and wonder as the sun sets over the mountain, or on top of Bickle Knob, which is outside of Elkins, where I climb the fire tower and have the view of an eagle. It is there where I find a peace that is beyond words, and I am compelled to tell everyone I meet how they, too, can have this gift of knowing the peace of God if they just come and follow me to the mountain.
It’s the same with our faith. Most of us are born into our faith traditions without the stories of where we have met Jesus in our everyday life. What most people don’t get is that Mass is the communal response of the stories where we have met Jesus in our lives and the divine story we hear in our traditions and scripture, and through the rituals we celebrate at Mass, the stories embrace and become one. Without connecting the stories, the traditions become lost and forgotten. It is imperative for the young church in West Virginia to begin to recognize the mountain top experiences of everyday life that have led you to see that there is a God who loves us and who has given us every spiritual blessing from heaven in Jesus who offered himself so that death is conquered and we can now celebrate with joy – even in our suffering! One thing we don’t do enough at Mass is smile. It’s good news, not bad! The scriptures today are like the words a coach before the big game. “All right team, it’s time to get out there and do what we’ve been prepping you for since you were born. Bring joy, peace, justice, mercy and compassion to the world. You already have everything you need. Trust yourself and trust in God. Remember, you know the truth. Now find your companions and go out there and spread the Gospel. If someone won’t listen, don’t worry about it, just shake it off and don’t be discouraged. Above all, remember, you are loved and I will be with you until the end of the world. All right Mountaineers for Christ… on three… 1, 2, 3… LET’S GOOOO MOUNTAINEERS!”